St. Kitts is only 68sq miles and the matter of land ownership has always been a controversial issue, especially when a former Administration of Premier Robert Bradshaw took the decision to acquire the sugar lands from the hands of white foreign owners in the 1970s, into the domain of the local government, as part of the patrimony of the working class people of the country; the majority of whom were of African descent.
Bradshaw had always admonished his countrymen to see the land as a sacred asset that the people of St. Kitts MUST never sell. Instead he urged Kittitians to opt for the leasing of the lands so that they may always remain in the hands of the people.
However the action today by the government led by Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, has become necessary to help the government reduce significant portions of a huge National Debt that has been known to reach as high as 3 billion dollars. This eventually forced the government of the two island state to enter into a formal structural adjustment program under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund, IMF.
For some time now, external advisors have advocated that the government ought to dispose of some of its land assets as part of an overall strategy to try to arrest the serious ailments facing the economy and reduce the domestic portion of its National Debt.
The actions being taken by the government however have been heavily criticised by the parliamentary opposition, speaking in the National Assembly at the meeting held on Friday 21st September, 2012, at the Assembly Chambers on Church Street.
Deputy Political Leader of the opposition People’s Action Movement, PAM, Mr. Shawn Richards, argued however that the country is now paying the price for the fiscal mismanagement of the Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, and the Labour Administration. Another consequence opined Richards is that it will be the very poor people in the country who would suffer mostly, because they would be unable to afford the obvious high costs that would be placed on the former crown lands, at a time when more effort is needed to empower the people through land ownership.
Mr. Richards is of the view that future high land prices will be out of the reach of the ordinary poor man. For Richards, today, (Friday 21st September, 2012), is a sad day in the history of the country.
“Poor people have today lost 1,200 acres of this country with is a good portion coming from my constituency (Number 5-Sandy Point).”
From the 1,200 acres to be transferred from government ownership to the National Bank of St. Kitts & Nevis, Richards claims that some 600 acres is located in Sandy point.
Richards, who this weekend will be vying for the leadership of his party, at a special convention, placed the blame for the economic problems at the feet of the country’s Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas, whom he accused of gross mismanagement of the economy and its finances.
He said the Prime Minister was warned for many years, dating back to the mid1990s, but despite repeated warnings to take action, Richards charges that Dr. Douglas steadfastly refused to heed the warnings. He said the IMF cautioned that the country could not continue on the path it was travelling because the increasing debt of the government was unsustainable.
Because of the refusal to respond positively to those early warnings, Richards claims that this inaction by the Prime Minister and his government is what has brought the country to its current poor state of affairs.
Some financial reports have also made it clear that while the debt to GDP ratio should be 60%, at one point that of St. Kitts & Nevis has surpassed the 200% mark. They have warned that the debt is unsustainably high when examined against international standards.